ENTERTAINMENT: “Rogue One” Puts The War In Star Wars

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(Photo courtesy imdb.com)

By Tyler Chavez – News Editor

The “Star Wars” franchise has been around for nearly 40 years now. The name has become a common giant in the world of entertainment and pop culture. They have been movies, comics, toys, novels, video-games, and even a purposely forgotten Christmas special. And yet, for a franchise that revolves around an intergalactic conflict between good and evil with the word “war” in its title, Star Wars has never felt like a war. Sure there have been glimpses into it with the animated series and video-games, but none of them truly felt like a war. “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” changes this, leading up to one of the best products the franchise has ever offered.

Starring Felicity Jones (“The Theory of Everything” and “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”), Alan Tudyk (“Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials”, “Big Hero 6”, and “Wreck-It Ralph”), and Diego Luna (“The Book of Life” and “Elysium”), “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” is a prequel to “Star Wars: A New Hope”. The movie tells the story of how the Rebel Alliance managed to get a hold of the plans for the Death Star that allowed Luke Skywalker to destroy it in the movie that started it all. Jones plays Jyn Erso, the daughter of the lead engineer of the Death Star, who runs away from home after her father is brought back to finish his project. This story has never really been explored in the canon Star Wars mythos, so going down this route for the first spin-off Star Wars film seems to make sense.“Rogue One” manages to change so much of the Star Wars formula that it both separates itself from the rest, while also still retaining the look of Star Wars to be an amazing film and experience.

Right from the start, viewers know this is going to be a different experience. Even the title doesn’t follow the same formula. Instead of being “Star Wars: Rogue One”, it’s “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”. The movie is saying right from the get-go that it’s trying to be different. To establish this, there is text-crawl to set up the story or the traditional wiping transition that has been used in every film. “Rogue One” sets up its atmosphere as something different and unique. And yet, people still know they’re watching a Star Wars film. There are still blasters, ships that jump into hyperspace, mention of the Force, and even some old faces appear. “Rogue One” takes its differences in stride, but does not fully abandon what makes it a Star Wars film. The movie proves something important for Hollywood today: movies can set themselves apart from their predecessors while also incorporating what made them great without butchering their name.

The first half of the movie does have its moments, but it’s weighed down by some awkward storytelling. For one thing, the movie does take its liberties with explaining things. It’s never really explained what Jyn Erso has been doing in the years since she ran away from home, nor how the Rebel Alliance managed to find her after so many years. This very important point that pretty much sets up the plot is never answered.

To add onto this, Erso doesn’t really object to anything. A usual measure of a good protagonist is if they actually make things happen, or only react to things. Erso does the latter. This isn’t Felicity Jones’ fault, but her character just goes along with everything without much objection, even though she has showed no interest in this conflict or finding her father. And yet, when she does find a clue and makes this really out-of-place, cheesy motivational speech, viewers are suddenly supposed to believe that she is passionate about this cause and what it stands for. It just doesn’t stick. It’s such a shame because Felicity Jones is a good actress in this role, but this poor writing weighs down the complexity of her character and her motivations. It caps of the potential for what could have been an interesting character.

Jyn Erso isn’t the only character that gets this treatment. Viewers see two friends (a monk who is blind but is also force sensitive and a soldier who carries a huge automatic gun) who never got an explanation of how they meet or what they fight for, a pilot who abandons the Empire but without an explanation as to why, and a father figure to Erso who just disappeared from her life without much reason as to why. These aren’t just slight details, these are important plot points that set up characters and motivations. Without them, the movie seems too oddly convenient and not engaging. Important exposition is dropped from this film. In general, the characters of “Rogue One” end up being written poorly and at times, flat.

However, all these problems are pushed to the side for the last hour. This is the first Star Wars movie that truly feels like a war. The cinematography of the battling is intense, gripping, and a blast to watch from start to end. There are two components to the last battle: space and land. Both are done in a way that makes “Rogue One” such an experience to watch. For one thing, the space battle is done in a way that isn’t just all about fancy effects and explosions. Viewers follow one ship at a time and see the clever tactics each side uses to get closer to victory. The maneuvering of the ships still feels like a roller coaster, but it doesn’t feel gimmicky or like it’s trying to force as many explosions and images on screen as possible.

The land battle of this movie will have viewers’ hearts pumping for the entire thing. With fighting that reflects guerrilla warfare, high intensity, and most of all, moments that tug at the heart and make people actually feel something for the characters, this is the most intense a Star Wars film has been in years. The last hour alone are worth the price of admission. Everything about it is done in such a way that makes people really feel that they are watching a war movie, just with lasers and spaceships. And the movie reminds viewers that this isn’t just a war movie; this is an underdog war movie. The last minutes drive this home in a fight that Star Wars fans have been seeking for far too long, but will also remind viewers of the true cost of this war.

“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” tells the tale of the not-so-glorious, those who are willing to do anything and everything for what they believe in. It’s the gritty war story of the Rebels who didn’t use lightsabers to fight. “Rogue One” is what an expanded story should be as it adds more life and story to a universe people already love. While there are problems with the writing and the characters, the last half make people forget this with sequences that put them on the front lines of battle. Viewers will never be able to watch the first Star Wars film the same away again, but in a good way.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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